2 Weeks: Doha Qatar Trip
Doha Qatar – Art Show + Side Trips = Adventure!
I was invited by a friend to help her at an art show in Doha Qatar for two weeks and have a working holiday. I jumped at the chance to explore a new part of the world!
I’ve been to Europe a few times, visited Singapore and Jakarta and traveled a lot in North America – but the Middle East was new territory for me. I was beyond curious about how this trip would unfold. What would the language barriers be? How would the food be? I even researched toilets, just to be prepared. All I knew was that Qatar was an emerging country looking to establish itself on the world stage and progress was happening fast.
The art show was part of this progress. The Scrap Metal Art Show was organized by the Souq Waqif Art Center and brought 30 international artists together for an amazing display. My part in it was to assist Cindy and sell the smaller work that was shipped over. I adopted a secondary role as unofficial photographer for the event. I had spare time while I was at the show to grab my camera and wander the show, shooting casual images of the artists, their work and the guests. I love to shoot events and try to capture the feel, so this would be an exciting event to cover.
The show was held in the open square of Souq Waqif, which is a main tourist destination in Doha Qatar. The Souq (market) is a maze of small shops offering anything from hardware to spices to clothing to falcons. Yes, Falcons! Souq Waqif offers a lot for tourists and locals, and provides a lot of great restaurants as well. Our hotel was in the complex, so needless to say, we spent a lot of time here.
I brought a lot of photo gear with me as I wasn’t sure what I would be shooting or from where. I knew I would be shooting the show and I wanted some skyline shots of downtown Doha from across the bay, but everything else was just a guess. Most of the time, I had my 24-120 lens on my D850 as it gave me the most versatility. I didn’t use a flash inside as the show lighting provided fairly even light both day and night. I knew Doha Qatar had a lot to offer, but I didn’t shoot a lot of it on this trip.
The trip started with 30 hour travel day. The three Flights (Wichita > Dallas > London > Doha) went quite smoothly, but I did catch a cold on one of them and have been sick since. I was greeted at the Doha Airport by one of the Art Center staff holding a “Mr Arthur” sign – it was a HUGE relief to know I would not have to find my own transit to the hotel. Once at the hotel, Cindy was waiting with her new artist friends and we were given a short tour of Souq Waqif.
We visited the Falcon Souq, the Horse Souq and then the Camel Souq where we were able to pet some camels late at night while downtown Doha was lit up across the bay. We walked around and got our bearings for what would be our neighbourhood for the next two weeks. I had my phone out for the first two days as I was fairly tired from the trip and wanted to explore more than shoot at this time.
The second day included a tour of the National Museum of Qatar. This museum features truly unique architecture and tells the story of Qatar from the Bronze Age to modern times. Great displays with huge video screens gave me insight into the country I knew so little about.
We still had a day before the show opened and there was a lot of work to do. The artists were all excited and anxious to see if there work arrived safely (or at all), so we spent a bit of time at the show space waiting for shipments to arrive. It was a lot of fun getting these first glimpses of artwork from around the world and it gave the artists time to connect.
Eventually all the work would be unloaded, clear customs and put on display. Many of the display panels were painted black, which didn’t show off the work well, so they were quickly repainted white when requested by the artists. This is just one of many small details which were being attended to in the last hours before the show opened. Still, it was all coming together and starting to look great!
Opening night finally came and it included a visit from the Prime Minister and other dignitaries. This created a media frenzy unlike anything I had witnessed in person. With camera in hand, I wanted to get some shots, while staying out of the way (and not creating an international incident!).
For the next twelve days this would be my ‘office’. I was looking after the smaller items we had for sale (saws, jewelry, etc) in the ‘bazaar tent’ while Cindy greeted people stopping by her artwork in the main tent. The show was open the usual Qatari business hours: 9 to 12 in the morning, then 4 to 9 in the evening. Much of the city closes during the peak afternoon heat. Speaking of desert heat, it was a humid 90 degrees most days, with the evenings being cooler, but still warm. It wasn’t overbearing, but the sun was harsh. Knowing I was coming home to freezing Nebraska temperatures I actually enjoyed being hot during the day.
At night, there was a mix of local and international artists working on new projects on a ‘demonstration stage’ area. During slower times I was able to step out and watch the progress as these pieces were put together.
And so it went most days, start the morning at the show, then take a break in the afternoon. Some days I just needed a rest, other days it was a dip in the hotel pool or a walk to explore the Souq Waqif area. The afternoons were hot, so walking too far in the sun wasn’t a good idea, but one walk to the docks to see the dhows (about 20 minutes each way) was enough!
Weekends in Qatar are Friday and Saturday with most of the city being closed Friday morning. This break was our chance to get out explore a little further. We took one Friday morning to go on a ‘dune bashing’ trip with some of the other artists. This trip included a photo op with falcons and a visit to the “Inland Sea”. We had a great time hitting the dunes, walking in the water and seeing some of the sites outside the city.
One big takeaway from this trip was how ‘welcome’ I felt. I met a lot of people, from the artists to the organizers – but I also had the whole world cross my path during the show. Everyone was friendly and seemed genuinely happy that we were there. It made us feel like we were part of something bigger than a ‘just an art show’.
Qatar is unique that 90% of its population is foreign. The show was open to anyone and put on for the Qatari people to enjoy some artwork and have more culture in their lives. In that aspect the show was a huge success as everyone I talked to loved the art and appreciated what they were seeing. Scrap Metal Art is very approachable, very easy to understand: People re-purpose ‘junk’ and make something beautiful out of it. Of course some pieces might have deeper meanings, but it is artwork people can just enjoy.
Qatar also has a reputation of one of the safest countries in the world. I’ll admit that I was very relaxed walking around, even late at night. I also had no problem leaving a tablet on the table at the show displaying a slideshow while I wandered off to take photos, and I routinely left my camera bag under the table while I got coffee or visited the artists. Maybe I was just lucky, but the vibe I had told me not to worry.
Another side trip we took was a late evening visit to the Katara Cultural Village. This area is a mix of public art, performance spaces, restaurants and gathering spaces. I didn’t know what to expect on this last minute journey, but I was glad I grabbed my camera!
Shown above is the sculpture “The Force of Nature II” by Lorenzo Quinn. I shot this late at night, not well lit and handheld. But it was on my list of things to see while in Qatar, and loved the setting it was in. next to the amphitheater and set within water jets lit by lights.
We had dinner here at an amazing ‘seafood market’ restaurant ( L’wzaar Seafood Market) which was new experience for most of us. You pick your food out, like you would at at fish market, then decide how you want it prepped and order any side dishes you want back at the table. Everything we had was fresh and shareable!
Well, those are some of the highlights of this trip to Doha Qatar. If you read this far, thank you. 🙂 I’ll leave you with one of my favourite photos. I shot this while hanging out in a falcon shop, and this gentleman had his eye on this beautiful creature.
If you want to see more photos from the trip, I have more galleries posted that I shot for the artists and the art center to use and enjoy. These images will help flesh out the story, but but needless to say – this was an amazing trip and I hope to get back again soon! 😀
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or email me at: Art@ArtWhitton.com